Sunday Post #20: Summertime

Sunday PostLooks like summer is starting pretty much all over (at least in the northern hemisphere). I’m beginning to see vacation pics on Facebook, and I’ve been eying my TBR pile, looking for good summertime reads.

I have a bit of a busy summer ahead. I am going to at least four teaching workshops. If anyone tries to tell you teachers don’t work during the summer, don’t you believe it. In addition, I have a new course to plan.

This week, I finished two books. The first I’ve already reviewed: The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. The second I have not yet reviewed, but will review and post about tomorrow (so good that it really needs its own post rather than a review rolled into the Sunday Post): We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Both were audio books.

I am still finishing up Walden, though my other books are on a bit of a hiatus, with the exception of I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira. I don’t know if other readers do this or not, but I have to have at least one paper book, one e-book, and one audio book going at all times. The paper books I can read in the tub without fear of destroying an expensive device. The e-books I can read pretty much everywhere, including in bed with the lights off, so I don’t disturb my husband. The audio books I can listen to while I do housework or make soap.

I love to read books set in my adopted home state of Massachusetts, so that was one reason why I liked We Were Liars so much, and I admit, seeing Massachusetts as a setting will push a book higher on my list. Here is a partial list of some of my favorite Massachusetts reads.

           

Some I’m looking forward to diving into or finishing:

    

I wonder if other readers are like me and like to read about places they have lived. I also certainly read a lot of books set elsewhere, too.

I added some books to my TBR list this week:

 

I know what you’re thinking: some variation of either “why haven’t you read The Things They Carried?” or “why wasn’t it already on your list”? It sort of was on my list, to address the second question, but now an oversight is corrected in that it’s on my Goodreads to-read list. As to the first question, yeah, I know.

Not at all a bad reading week, and I’m looking forward to more time (I hope) to read this summer. What about you? Have any recommendations or books you’re anxious to read?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Book Club Books

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is the top ten books that would make great book club picks. Some of these books I have actually read with a book club; others I haven’t, but I think they might make for good discussion.

  1. [amazon_link id=”0385341008″ target=”_blank” ]The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society[/amazon_link], Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer: It’s a book about book clubs! What could be better to read with a book club?
  2. [amazon_link id=”0312304358″ target=”_blank” ]Moloka’i[/amazon_link], Alan Brennert: This might be because I just chose it for my book club, but I think it would be great for discussion, especially because it’s a good story, but it has some flaws.
  3. [amazon_link id=”0345521307″ target=”_blank” ]The Paris Wife[/amazon_link], Paula McLain: I think this one would be great for literary book clubs who want to learn more about Hemingway and his circle.
  4. [amazon_link id=”1451648502″ target=”_blank” ]The Kitchen Daughter[/amazon_link], Jael McHenry: It might be fun to bring the dishes described in the book to the meeting. I also think discussing adult Asperger’s would make for an interesting evening.
  5. [amazon_link id=”1594484465″ target=”_blank” ]The Little Stranger[/amazon_link], Sarah Waters: I picked this mostly because I would like to talk about the ending and see what everyone else thinks happened at the end.
  6. [amazon_link id=”0399157913″ target=”_blank” ]The Help[/amazon_link], Kathryn Stockett: I liked this one a lot and see it being a good book to talk about when you’re done with it. I could even see a good discussion about whether it’s another in the long line of “white people solve racism” books/movies.
  7. [amazon_link id=”1613821395″ target=”_blank” ]The Woman in White[/amazon_link], Wilkie Collins: Marian and Count Fosco are great characters. So was Frederick Fairlie. He’s hysterical, in fact. I think it might be interesting to talk about how Collins popularized some of those tropes we consider clichés.
  8. [amazon_link id=”0142001805″ target=”_blank” ]The Eyre Affair[/amazon_link], Jasper Fforde: There is so much bookish fun in this one. I think book nerds would really like reading and talking about it.
  9. [amazon_link id=”B005K5XQRY” target=”_blank” ]The Lace Reader[/amazon_link], Brunonia Barry: I am not sure it would appeal to everyone in the group, but it has a classic unreliable narrator, and those always make for juicy discussion. Plus you could try to brew up some “Difficul-tea” and try out lace reading (if you can figure it out).
  10. [amazon_link id=”0385338015″ target=”_blank” ]Madame Bovary’s Ovaries[/amazon_link], David P. Barash and Nanelle R. Barash: The premise of this book is that you can explain the behavior of some characters in great literature through evolutionary psychology. It’s an interesting read. It’s sure to generate some discussion; I can’t imagine you’d get a whole group to agree on whether or not the authors are right. It serves the dual purpose of making you interested in the literature they discuss, too. The Goodreads reviews on it are all over the place.

Honorable mentions: [amazon_link id=”0812979303″ target=”_blank” ]Reading Lolita in Tehran[/amazon_link], Azar Nafisi; [amazon_link id=”0679751521″ target=”_blank” ]Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil[/amazon_link], John Berendt (only left out of top ten because everyone’s surely read it by now); and [amazon_link id=”014029628X” target=”_blank” ]Girl in Hyacinth Blue[/amazon_link], Susan Vreeland.

Reading Update: August 8, 2010

HatsI’m still reading books set in Salem. After finishing Brunonia Barry’s The Map of True Places and The Lace Reader, I returned to Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, although this book is set more in Marblehead than Salem, it does have some scenes in Salem. I think my favorite thing about Salem was just walking around and looking at everything. It truly is a unique town, and I do hope I have the opportunity to go back.

In addition to The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, I’ve begun a new DailyLit selection: Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. I haven’t read this one. I know, I know. Well, it sure starts off with a bang! Dickens was a master of characterization.

I am still reading just finished Charity Girl. I believe I’ll be finished with that one in a day or two, but my review will not appear here until the day it is published at Austenprose.

I am now about halfway through A Farewell to Arms. At this point, Catherine is pregnant, and Henry is going back to the front. I am wondering what is going to happen. I know the ending of this book. Years of being an English teacher have spoiled that plot, but I still wonder how we will get from here to there, and I wonder what will happen in between. I also found myself looking up “jaundice” on Wikipedia to see if it can be caused by alcoholism, and it looks like it can. Hemingway’s economy with words is beautiful in its simplicity. He still manages to capture so much with so little.

I’ve been trying to decide what I should read next. I’m still on this Salem kick, so I might read The Heretic’s Daughter, but I think I will scout around. Has anyone read Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman? I was going to swear off Hoffman after her Twitter rant last year, but this book looks interesting to me.

On a side note, Apture, the tool I use to create links on this site, appears to be broken at the moment, so the links might not pop up as enhanced links the way they usually do. And this post took twice as long to write as it would have with Apture. Hope they fix it soon!

photo credit: danahuff

The Lace Reader: A Re-Read

The Lace Reader: A NovelI first read Brunonia Barry’s debut novel The Lace Reader right before it was published as an advanced reader copy. You can read my review here. I decided to re-read the novel after my trip to Salem. I think Barry’s Map of True Places captures the character of Salem perhaps more clearly than Barry’s first novel, but I think that The Map of True Places is also more about Salem than The Lace Reader. It’s strange, but this time reading, I did see some elements of a feminine hero’s journey that I didn’t pick up on before. Before I go on, I should warn you that I won’t divulge the big reveal at the end of the book, but the remainder of this review might be a bit spoilery.

Katherine Howe, writer of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, has said that historically dogs have been considered witches’ familiars in greater numbers than cats, who have the association with witchcraft today. She gave her Connie a little dog named Arlo in her book. I wondered as I read about all the dogs on Yellow Dog Island, who seemed to be able to know what Towner wanted and would listen to her, especially in one crucial scene in the end. Did Barry intend to hearken back to the idea of dogs as familiars, or was it a coincidental choice? I myself would consider Towner, May, and Eva to be witches in a sense, though they don’t explicitly embrace that notion themselves in the same way that Ann Chase does.

One of the elements Joseph Campbell describes as an aspect of many hero’s journeys is the rebirth in the forest or the cave. For example, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry walks into the Forbidden Forest to face Voldemort, fully believing he will die. Instead, the Horcrux inside him is destroyed, and he is, in a sense, reborn. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck fakes his own death to escape from Pap. He emerges from the cave on the island a new person, so to speak. I saw a similar rebirth in The Lace Reader. Toward the end, when Towner is trying to rescue Angela from Cal’s followers, the two women travel through a secret doorway in Eva’s basement that leads to a tunnel. Because the tide is in, the water partially fills the tunnel, and the women will have to swim in order to escape because Cal’s followers have set fire to Eva’s house behind them. Towner takes Angela by the hair and instructs her to go limp so that she can help both of them swim to the end of the tunnel. They emerge in Eva’s boathouse at the other end. In a way, this seemed to me to be a feminization of the emergence from the cave in that the water surrounded the women. It actually made me think it might be a metaphor for the birth canal. After that moment, both women are in a sense reborn. I wondered if that metaphor had occurred to Barry, if she had been aiming for it. By the way, I subscribe to the belief that just because a writer didn’t intentionally mean to create a symbol or metaphor, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Reading is a creative act, and we bring our thoughts and experiences to reading. If we see a symbol there, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s there. Tolkien is famous, for example, for hating allegory. Yet The Lord of the Rings, and especially The Silmarillion can be read as biblical allegory. I actually like Jasper Fforde’s explanation: he says a book only belongs to an author as long as no one else has read it. After that, it belongs to the reader, too, and the creative act of reading allows for readers to interpret books in ways that authors might not have considered. And they’re right, too.

The Lace Reader is more intriguing on a re-read because knowing the big reveal at the end enabled me to read the book with a different eye. I caught many more of Barry’s hints regarding what might be going on in Towner’s psyche than I did when I read it the first time. Unreliable narrators are difficult because I think as readers we are trained to trust the person telling the story, and some people don’t like this book because they feel betrayed by the narrator. However, Barry has not betrayed anyone. It would take a more astute reader than I to pick up on all the clues on a first read, but she does plant clues, and in the end, the big reveal makes sense given what the reader knows about Towner and how other characters react to her. Re-reading revealed much more starkly to me the ways in which Barry takes pains not to cheat the reader, but I think some of the negative comments I’ve seen about this book centered around not feeling prepared for that ending, and on a re-read, I didn’t think it is a fair criticism. I admit to being surprised by the ending the first time, but it isn’t completely out of the blue, and it makes sense in the story. And as I said in my last review, readers would do well to take Towner at her word in the first few sentences. She is telling the truth, there.

I think Barry is an interesting writer. She has a great knack for evoking a place, turning that place into a character in its own right. Her secondary characters like Eva, Ann Chase, who appears in both of her novels, and Melville, Finch, and Jessina in The Map of True Places are well-drawn and fun to read. In all, I think The Map of True Places is a stronger book, and I think those who didn’t enjoy The Lace Reader precisely for the reasons I discussed will like it better, but I thoroughly enjoyed both books. I thought this interview, in which Barry examines the novel herself with a critical eye, was illuminating.

Both times I have read this book, I’ve finished wanting know how to make lace. I am looking forward to whatever Brunonia Barry writes next. I find her writing inspiring in that I would like to be able to write about place and create such interesting characters in the same way that she does.

My rating is still the same.

Rating: ★★★★★

Full disclosure: I received this book originally as an advanced reader copy, and the second copy, the one I re-read, as part of a prize package from William Morrow and Destination Salem. I like the paperback cover better than the hardcover version.

Reading Update: August 2, 2010

Finished scarfAfter finishing The Map of True Places, I decided to re-read The Lace Reader. I won’t give away the spoilery ending, but I will say that The Lace Reader is an interesting and different book on a re-read after the reader knows how it ends. I had forgotten that Ann Chase, who appears in The Map of True Places, was also in this book, but when she mentions being friends with Towner Whitney, I looked it up and discovered she had indeed been a character. She is such a fun character and so well drawn. It would be interesting for Barry to give her a story in which she takes center stage. Barry casts Ann Chase as a descendant of Giles and Martha Corey, which isn’t possible because they had no children together. I don’t know if it’s a mistake, poetic license, or Towner’s error. It might have been fun to cast Ann as a descendant of John and Elizabeth Proctor—perhaps even the baby Elizabeth was carrying that saved her life until the hysteria died down. Lace reading is one of those things that sounds so true it’s a bit of a surprise to learn that Brunonia Barry invented it. I’ll bet it has some practitioners now. At any rate, I think I’m actually enjoying this novel more on a re-read than I did the first time around, perhaps because I recently visited the novel’s setting or perhaps because I’m reading it with different eyes knowing the ending. Either way, I’m turning the pages. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Barry signed my paperback copies of The Lace Reader in addition to my copies of The Map of True Places. I won two copies of each book as part of my prize package. I’m on about page 60, but will probably read some more before I call it night.

Aside from The Lace Reader, I’m also reading Georgette Heyer’s Charity Girl for Austenprose’s Celebration of Georgette Heyer. It’s a quick read, but I have to admit that the Regency slang is hard for me to navigate. I have had to use the dictionary a lot (thank goodness I’m reading it on my Kindle, so that’s easy). I have a quibble with the Kindle edition, however. Many of the words are broken up (i.e. to gether) and the paragraphs are formatted wrong. No indentation at the beginning of a new one and little indication of a new paragraph. It’s been maddening to read from an aesthetic viewpoint. I think I’ll finish it quickly. I’m 46% done now.

I am also reading Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, which I have never read. I am teaching American literature again this year, and it’s the only required book for summer reading. The other books are choice books. Because we are supposed to teach the required book as our first unit, I need to read it. It’s not bad, but it’s not really what I want to read right now in my current frame of mind, so I’ve not got too far. I’m also reading it on the Kindle, and I’m 12% finished.

So what are you reading? Is it good?

photo credit: Maria Keays

Map of True Places Sweepstakes

On Friday, I received a package full of goodies. You might remember I won the Map of True Places Sweepstakes for Brunonia Barry’s newest book, The Map of True Places. It’s hard to tell what all is in the picture above, but the prizes included

We will probably go in July. Dylan and Maggie will most likely come with us. It’s weird. You see these contests online and enter for the hell of it, not thinking you could win, but definitely thinking why not? It takes a minute. You know ultimately someone wins these things, but you never think it will be you. This time it was, and I am so excited. I actually don’t know how to put how I feel into words. I still don’t believe I won.

New York Times Review of The Lace Reader

The New York Times posted a review of Brunonia Barry’s novel, The Lace Reader.  I thought the review was very fair and quite accurate, particularly about Towner’s creative writing stopping the forward motion of the plot, which was something I couldn’t articulate when I wrote my own review.  Still, I think the book is well worth a read.  Check it out!

When I have an opportunity, I’ll post my review of Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue, which I finished reading last night.  I am embarking on a re-read of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows before I turn back to new literature.

The Lace Reader

The Lace ReaderBrunonia Barry’s novel The Lace Reader is an intricate and fascinating read.  Barry’s description evokes a setting that is easy for the reader to picture and her characters are memorable.  Towner Whitney narrates most of the novel, and readers would do well to pay particular to the first two sentences in which she introduces herself.  I make a habit of checking a book to see how many chapters, parts, and pages it has, and I inadvertently saw something on a page near the end that gave away the ending, but I enjoyed seeing it unravel nonetheless.  Do yourself a favor if you read it, and don’t peek.  The surprise is better.

Towner returns to Salem after 15 years when she discovers Eva, whom Towner refers to as her aunt, is missing.  As the novel progresses, the reader learns that Towner has stayed away to escape some horrible memories from her past, when her twin Lyndley committed suicide at the age of 17 and Towner herself confessed to a murder that had not taken place.  She meets and becomes close to Rafferty, the detective assigned to look into Eva’s death and also into subsequent events.

My favorite character was Ann Chase, whom Barry describes as the second most famous witch in Salem after Laurie Cabot.  She was no-nonsense, funny, and strong.  I also liked Eva, who has died by the time the narrative begins, but whose personality is revealed through other characters’ memories of her.

The title comes from a fictional means of divination called lace reading, which is practiced by Eva, May, and occasionally Towner, though Towner blames her sister’s death on lace reading and refuses to practice it afterward.

More than anything else, this novel is about abuse and its toll on the human psyche.  I found the book to be really interesting, and it wouldn’t surprise me if lace reading becomes a popular means of fortune telling as a result of the novel.  Barry says that she wrote the novel as a “heroine’s journey,” influenced by the ideas of Joseph Campbell.  She wondered how the woman’s journey as a hero would be different from that of the man.  I’m not sure, after reading it, that I see Joseph Campbell’s monomyth in the novel.  However, I do see a sort of journey in it, and I’m glad I went on that trip.

The Lace Reader Received

I received an advance reading copy of Brunonia Bryant’s The Lace Reader.  I’m looking forward to being one of the first bloggers to be able to review this novel, so I will begin it as soon as I finish The Plague of Doves (which is really, really good so far).

Brunonia Barry’s The Lace Reader

I heard about Brunonia Barry’s novel The Lace Reader yesterday via Book Club Girl’s blog.  Book Club Girl has an interview with Barry that really intrigued me, and you ought to give it a listen if my description of the novel intrigues you.  I was lucky to be one of the first ten commenters, which means Book Club Girl will be sending me a free advance reader edition of The Lace Reader.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of the novel is how it came to be published.  Trying to get a book published is hard, trying, and often disheartening work.  Rather than spend years trying to find a publisher, Barry published her book herself.  The book became popular with readers and book clubs, and it attracted the attention of publishers who then had to bid for her book.  I love that part of the story.  Barry was able to score a $2 million book deal; the novel will be published by William Morrow and has already generated film industry buzz.

The novel is the story of Towner Whitney, a native of Salem, MA who can read the future in patterns of Ipswich lace.  She returns to her hometown after the murder of two women.  Barry says that her inspiration for the story was Joseph Campbell’s theory of the monomyth, around which I built a senior English elective at my school.  Needless to say, a new book deliberately written with the Hero’s Journey in mind intrigued me.  Barry explains that “Most stories that follow this pattern have a decidedly male orientation: a lone individual acts heroically and saves the day. I wondered if there might be an alternate form, a feminine Hero’s Journey.”  Barry is right.  Of the books I chose, all of them had a male protagonist, and it wasn’t that I didn’t want to find a book that had a female protagonist — I couldn’t.  I chose books like The Iliad, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Le Morte D’Arthur, The Ramayana, The Hobbit, Star Wars, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which was nixed by my principal), among a few other selected texts.  In part I am intrigued by this book for possible inclusion in my course.

I am about one-quarter into Northanger Abbey, and it’s been a delight.  I love the “heroine” Catherine, and I am looking forward to discovering what the Editrix of Austen Blog loves about Mr. Tilney (I’ve only seen him twice so far).  Austen, as always, has a pitch-perfect ear for conversation, and I was completely charmed by chapter six, in which she recounts a dialogue between Catherine and Isabella Thorpe (whom I also adore).  I should be finishing Emma this weekend, so please look for a review some time on Sunday.  I have decided I will read Charles Dickens next on DailyLit, but I am having trouble choosing a book.  I have narrowed down the list to three selections, and if you have thoughts about which one I should choose, please leave me a comment.

David Copperfield would take me more than a year in 447 daily installments, but A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations are broken into 170 and 231 parts respectively.  When selecting novels for DailyLit, I try to choose books that I think I would otherwise not read, and all three books fit that description, so if you don’t help me, I’m afraid I’ll have to rely on eenie, meenie, miney, and moe for assistance.  Here’s incentive for you: if you successfully convince me to read the book of your choice, I will send you a DailyLit subscription to the book of your choice (so long as it’s free), and you can enjoy a bit of DailyLit in your own inbox.  What do you say?